World Chameleon Species Tour: Trioceros oweni

Natural History of Trioceros oweni
Cameroon is home to some very diverse species. When they are imported and you see their names next to each other on a price list you miss how incredibly different they all are. In this series on Cameroon species we have started in the lowlands with T. cristatus and will slowly travel higher in altitude. Today, we are still in the lowlands with a species that is found from sea level up to only about 800m. Trioceros oweni is one of the rarest of species in captivity and, to my knowledge, is being kept and bred by only Jurgen Van Overbeke. T. oweni is a striking species with three horns and an incredibly long tail. It may live at the same altitudes as T. cristatus, but could not be more different. T. cristatus lives near the ground while T. oweni lives high up in the tree tops.

Trioceros oweni is a wide spread species and is found across much of central Africa. We usually see this species with three thin horns in the males with the females being hornless. But there is a “unicorn” variant in the Congo that has only one horn.

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T. oweni has been imported very rarely. We hear about individuals with them every decade or so. This is not a bad thing as T. oweni, while beautiful, is not a species well adjusted to captivity. The few individuals that have experienced this chameleon report that It is terminally shy. Let’s learn about this species through the words of Jugren Van Overbeke

“Trioceros oweni, or Owen’s Chameleon, is one of the rarest of the Cameroon species. Though it lives across much of Central Africa, they live 25-30m up in the trees and are very difficult to catch. As far as I know, I am the only person keeping and breeding them in the world. It is the holy grail of chameleons to me and the babies I am currently raising up are my masterpiece!

I recommend this species for only highly experienced people. It is an extremely shy species and, due to its choice of living high in the trees, rarely comes in contact with people. When they do come in contact with people or any threat they have a habit of rolling into a dense ball and dropping to the ground.

T. oweni requires a large terrarium as they are very active. I feel a minimum should be 4’ tall x 3’ wide x 3’ deep. This terrarium needs to be densely planted. Even that is not enough for this species. I covered all sides of the terrarium with wood so there was no visual contact. A complete blocking of humans and what was going on outside the cage finally worked well. This species must be kept individually.

T. oweni requires warmer conditions like T. cristatus. I target 75-80 F. I made the mistake, at first, of keeping them in my montane room. They did poorly there and spent the bulk of their time basking. With this observation and confirmation from the trappers as to where they were found, I moved them to a warmer room with the T. cristaus and they have been doing well. They definitely enjoy their basking and I use a 10.0 UVB lamp for added UVB.

This species is a curiosity as they are active and their mobility through the trees includes jumping from one branch to another like a kangaroo. They move through the trees like a monkey!

Like the other Cameroon species, T. oweni is a big drinker. I definitely give them a fogger during the early morning (before the light is on) hours and I spray for at least ten minutes to start their day off and in late afternoon. I have noticed that they drink every time.

I have only observed breeding while the chameleons were outdoors for the summer. They have a 2 month gestation period and a 10-12 month incubation. They are large eggs and the babies are a beautiful black and white with a reddish head. Even as babies the tail is three times the body length. My babies are currently ten months old and my survival rate is 80%

I have been careful with the supplementations as the slightest bit of our vitamin mixes seem to cause edema. A little calcium/magnesium mix was all that I used.

It has been exciting to experience the hatching of T. oweni in captivity vicariously through Jurgen. Most of us will never have the opportunity to see this chameleon in person, but, through learning about them, we can see just how incredible our little chameleon corner of the world is!

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Left Image: Male Trioceros oweni in Jurgen Van Overbeke's personal collection
Right image: Female Trioceros oweni in Jurgen Van Overbeke's personal collection

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Hatchling and juvenile Trioceros oweni hatched by Jurgen Van Overbeke

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